Ambitious Reading List: The Loo Sanction by Trevanian

the loo sanctionHey look, I finished another book from my latest Ambitious Read List! Even though I just wrote about Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot last month, I can’t revel in this literary moral victory because I actually started this book…way too long ago. My father-in-law passed me this book along with its predecessor in the Jonathan Hemlock series The Eiger Sanction a few years ago and now I’m finally done with them (and wishing Trevanian had gotten around to writing a few more).

As this 1973 novel picks up Jonathan Hemlock is out of the sanction game until he’s framed by the British version of the shadowy organization he used to work for and blackmailed into infiltrating a sex club for the powerful in order to return some videos of politicians in compromising situations. Along the way he meets a wannabe Irish spy who he kinda sorta falls for, but she’s also wrapped up in some of these shenanigans so it gets a bit dicey.

So, why did it take me so long to read this book? Honestly, it’s a little boring in the offing. It also lacked that magic thing that keeps driving you on to read the next chapter. I don’t know what that is, but ‘Salem’s Lot had it and Loo Sanction just didn’t. At the same time, I like this character so I wanted to see where he wound up, so I kept returning to it every now and then and eventually got to the point where I was fully absorbed. There are also some particularly nasty moments in this book that were hard to get through and too much on many fronts. Supposedly this was written as a satire of the James Bond movies, but kitchen utensils never seemed so awful in a Bond film.

To go along with the satire threat, there was an element to this book that I picked up on that I didn’t see in the previous entry: it’s intentionally poking fun at the ridiculousness of rich and powerful people. Everyone with any kind of power in this novel also has some over-the-top trait which our hero bristles at because, even though he’s cultured and well-to-d0, he’s a kid from the streets at heart. For example, the Vicar who runs England’s sanction department winks like a maniac. Maxwell Strange, the man who runs the sex club, would be considered a health freak even by today’s standards and Amazing Grace is a surprisingly short woman who spends most of her time walking around naked. These might feel like odd traits at first — especially if you look at them through the frame of the Bond films — but after reading about more quirks than an episode of New Girl, I started to catch on.

At the end of the day, while this one didn’t exactly kick off with my interest, it certainly garnered it halfway through as I wound up reading the last 150 pages or so during flights to and from Indiana. Also, I assume if you’re a faster and more dedicated reader than I am, you’d get through the early parts faster and not dwell on them as I tend to.

Looking at the line-up for the Reading List, I’ve already 86ed the book of essays about comics and think I’m going to move on to either The Dante Club or the Freddy Krueger book because it’s almost fall and Halloween’s around the corner!

Ambitious Reading List: ‘Salem’s Lot By Stephen King (1975)

salem's lot my copyI’m not doing very well with this summer’s Ambitious Reading List. I thought I’d finish The Loo Sanction, but it never quite grabbed me. I tried to start a few other books from the pile, but decided to put Stephen King’s The Dark Tower aside for another of his works: ‘Salem’s Lot.

I knew nothing about this book going in. I didn’t realize it was just his second novel after Carrie and I certainly didn’t know it was about vampires. I kind of wish I hadn’t read that bit of information, but it’s hardly a spoiler, though I was enjoying going into a book that’s been around for so long basically blind. Continue reading Ambitious Reading List: ‘Salem’s Lot By Stephen King (1975)

Ambitious Summer Reading List 2015

ambitious summer reading list 2015The other day I was cleaning out the garage and came across a few boxes of unread books that I was able to combine, but only if I pulled a few out. I figured that was as good a reason as any to try my hand (and eyes) at another Ambitious Summer Reading list. There’s just something about the warm weather that makes me want to stay inside and read, I guess.

As usual, I’ve got a pretty eclectic selection here. From the top, Ghosts And Things is a spooky anthology from 1962 that includes stories by Henry James, Ambrose Bierce and others. I’m thinking about reading these stories in between other books, but the James story was SUPER boring, so I’m not sure if I’ll stick with that plan.

Below that is the 1979 Avengers novel The Man Who Stole Tomorrow by the awesome David Micheline. In the 90s I read a lot of superhero novels and am curious to see how this early example is. Then there’s Freddy Krueger’s Tales Of Terror #2: Fatal Games. My buddy Jesse sent me this and I’m pretty excited to read it because I love Freddy and this looks like the Christopher Pike novels I read in grade school.

You can also see Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. I’ve heard a lot of different things about this series over the years and made sure to get the pre-revised version of this book, so we’ll see how this goes. Switching gears completely, I’ve also got Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City. I listened to the audiobook version of Klosterman’s IV a few years back and picked this up not long after. I’m a sucker for music related autobios, so I’m sure this will be awesome.

I know absolutely nothing about Twilight Of The Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg other than the fact that it was like a dollar at one of all time favorite discount stores that’s no longer around. But, hey, it’s about superheroes, so it should be in my wheelhouse (I hope). At the bottom of the pile you’ll see another comic-related book, this one Mark Evanier’s column collection Comic Books And Other Necessities Of Life. For some reason I thought this was a collection of interviews, but I must be thinking of ANOTHER book in one of my boxes. Evanier’s one of the best comic historians around, so I’m sure this will be an interesting read.

That brings us to the last three books. Trevanian’s The Loo Sanction is the sequel to The Eiger Sanction, a book I read last year and really enjoyed. There’s also my first Raymond Chandler book Farewell, My Lovely and The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. I must have read about that last one ten years ago and always wanted to check it out, but haven’t gotten around to it until now!

As you can probably tell, there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to these selections. I tried to balance out longer books with shorter ones just to take it a little easy on myself. I haven’t been taking much time to read actual books lately, but I’m hoping that this will push me in that direction. I’m kicking off with The Loo Sanction because I actually started it like six months ago and want to finish it. I’m about halfway through and trying to spend more time with good books, so I’ll hopefully be posting about that one soon!

Ambitious Halloween Reading List: Creepy Archives Vol. 1

creepy volume 1 Back when I was still at ToyFare, I got a pretty epic box of books including the first two volumes of Dark Horse’s Creepy Archives reprints. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that they’ve been sitting in my closet pretty much ever since. I might have pulled volume one out a few times, but never really dove in properly until this year. Not only was I excited to get into these stories as part of the Ambitious Halloween Reading List, but I was also able to make some money off of it by working on a fun list over at Topless Robot called The 10 Best Stores from the Early Days of Creepy.

I talked about some of the history over there, but basically, back in the mid 60s Warren Publishing figuratively picked up the mantle of EC Comics and rekindled quality horror anthology comics with books like Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. Many of the old school EC guys came over and did art while most of the stories in this volume were written by editor Archie Goodwin. After reading a few EC collections, I wasn’t quite sure what to think of Creepy, but I’m glad to say I had a wonderful time reading these stories.

The big problem I had with the Tales From The Crypt and Weird Science books I’ve read is that, while the art is often amazing, the stories are hokey, boring or built in such a way that the twist ending is just so obvious it’s not even entertaining. I was worried that the Creepy tales would be along those lines and was delighted to find that that wasn’t the case.

ambitious halloween reading list 2013In fact, this book had some incredibly unique stories that I’ve never seen anywhere else which is really saying something. In that regard, these stories reminded me of The Twilight Zone because there was such a variety of stories being told, which is all the more impressive when you think that one guy was writing most of them.

But, the real eye-opening aspect of this book was introducing me to some classic comic book artists that I’m not very familiar with. Classic guys like Al Williamson, Jack Davis, Angelo Torres and Joe Orlando came in ready to rock as did Frank Frazetta whose gnarly style fits perfectly with those vets (not that he was any rookie by this point, but you get my meaning). The one artist that really blew me away, though, was Gray Morrow. His work has such depth and quality to it that you almost wonder if these were more modern stories slid into these others from the mid 60s. I’m so intrigued by him that I want to check out books like Orion and Space: 1999, which both happen to be on my Amazon Wish List if anyone wants to get me a little something.

Anyway, as you can tell, I’m pretty darn far away from reviewing these supposedly Halloween-themed books in a timely fashion, but I’m enjoying this mix of books still and will continue on until I find myself distracted by something else. I’m partway through the Wally Wood book and about a third of the way through The Fall right now, so maybe I’ll actually finish this one out before the end of the year (but probably not).

Ambitious Halloween Reading List: The Shining (1977)

the shining 1

Books were my first entry into the world of horror. At some point in grade school I started reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and then graduated to his more mature Fear Street series as well as Christopher Pike’s myriad of young adult offerings. At around 16 or 17, I moved from those into the seemingly more grown up world of horror movies, but somewhere in the transition phase, I read Stephen King’s The Shining. I can’t remember the exact timing, but sometime in high school I gave this book a read, saw parts of Stanley Kubrick’s film and viewed all or most of the 1997 TV adaptation starring Steven Weber from Wings.

So, when I decided to give the book another read as part of my Ambitious Halloween Reading List, I thought I’d have a pretty good idea of what was going on in the book. But, as I read I realized that my brain had a jumble of previously seen and read elements thanks to the above experiences — and the “Treehouse Of Horror” spoof from The Simpsons — and couldn’t remember what source the elements I remembered came from (as many of you probably know, Kubrick’s film took several departures from King’s original story). As it turned out, I actually remembered very little (possibly nothing) from my previous reading, which made the experience a lot more intense.

The story itself finds disgraced prep school teacher, former alcoholic and struggling writer Jack Torrance taking a winter caretaker job at a big hotel in Colorado called The Overlook. He’s had a rough go of things lately — partially because he beat the crap out of a student named George who slashed his tires — and feels like this is a last resort career-wise. He brings his wife Wendy and their 5-year-old son Danny along for the experience.

As it turns out, the hotel has a mysterious and dark past the includes a good deal of murder, death and other nefarious dealings. None of that would be so bad if Danny didn’t have the shining, an ability that allows him to read others’ minds, see parts of the future and communicate wordlessly with other people possessing the same ability like the hotel’s outgoing cook Dick Hallorann who explains some of the abilities and hotel-based creepiness to the young boy. The longer they stay in the place, the more it gets to Jack in an effort to absorb Danny’s powers. Danny sees gruesome phantoms of past violence, some of which start attacking him physically. But none of that compares to the fear that comes from his father Jack as he struggles to keep his sanity.ambitious halloween reading list 2013

I’ve mentioned this on the past two episodes of my parenting podcast The Pop Poppa Nap Cast, but reading this book as a father really added to the sense of dread that builds up. Anyone can relate to the idea of being penned in by an impending blizzard that will strand you on a mountain and how potentially scary that could be. But, I felt like I was able to tap into this story more for a few reasons now that I’m a dad. First, much as I hate to admit it, I can relate in some small way to some of the anger that comes from being a parent. Jack takes that to a whole different, awful level, but the best horror stories are the ones you can understand the basis of in your heart. Second, my love for my own kid makes it all the worse when Jack does start losing his cool, lets the hotel get into his brain and start going nuts. Seeing him devolve from a man on the mend to a beast-thing is a tough thing because I think many of us have the potential to fall from grace like that. And third, having a young child who is just starting to fear things, I can only image what it would be like for a person her or Danny’s age to try and process all of this insanity and the damage that might cause.

King did a great job of drawing a complicated, sympathetic and awful character in Jack Torrance. He’s a creative guy who came from a bad home and eventually created a solid life for himself. But, be it genetic, predestination or whatever, he gave in to the temptation of booze and his fiery temper which lead to several different problems for him. You want to simply write the character off, but it soon becomes clear that he could have had a fair shot if he hadn’t taken a job in a place filled with demons just waiting to wake his own up. He’s a beautifully composed tragic figure who you root for, but don’t let yourself believe he’ll fully overcome the Overlook.

I did have one question for fellow Shining readers. Are we to assume that Jack and Al, while on their last drunken joyride, hit George Hatfield’s bike? The night’s events are recounted to us, but then when Jack remembers coming upon George slashing his tires, the young man mentions something about a bike before Jack wails on him. Am I grasping at straws here or is this something that people have talked about before?

the shiningAnyway, I thought this was a great work of suspense and horror, though I don’t think I’m blowing any minds with that statement. I really enjoyed the book and feel pretty primed to check out the sequel Doctor Sleep. Also, I wanted to note that this is the first book that I’ve read completely on my Kindle. I’ve got to say, I’m a big fan of the method because it’s pretty light, easy to read (and customize) and you can simply tap a word if you’re not familiar with it. My only complaint is that I don’t know how deep into the book I am. The percentage given is cool, but it doesn’t let know how much you have left and I’m still not sure what the numbers at the bottom of the display mean, so I can’t accurately use that to gauge how much of a book I have left. Ah well, I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

The First Ambitious Halloween Reading List

ambitious halloween reading list 2013I knew I hadn’t been doing very well on the most recent Ambitious Reading List, but then I checked the blog and realized I started it back in November of last year and have only since read three and a half of the books. So, with Halloween in the offing, I figured it was about time to toss that one aside and start a brand new one, this time with more of a focus.

So, I now have nine books that I’m trying to read this month. It probably won’t happen because I’m a damn slow reader, but why not give it a shot, right? Here’s the basic rundown.

The Listeners by Christopher Pike. I was a huge fan of Pike’s young adult books as a kid and figured I’d give one of his adult titles a read. I actually stumbled upon this used book store purchase while looking for the next book in the pile, but it felt appropriate to check out this month.

Interview With A Vampire by Anne Rice. This is one of two re-reads on the pile this time around. I can’t remember the first time I read this book, probably late grade school or high school, but I’m curious to get back to it and then give the adaptation another watch.

The Shining by Stephen King. You might not be able to see my Kindle on the pile, but I assure you it’s there. I read this book in high school then lent it to a guy I worked with at the bagel shop when I was 16. He got fired and I never saw him again. So, it’s been quite a while since I’ve given it a read. I will follow this one up by watching all of Kubrick’s film version FOR THE FIRST TIME! By the way, it’s only $4 for Kindle right now!

Vicious Circle by Mike Carey. This is the second Felix Castor novel from Carey. I used to interview him all the time for Wizard and really enjoyed the first installment The Devil You Know. The book explores a world where everyone knows ghosts exist and have to deal with them on a regular basis.

The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Since reading The Strain, I’ve actually been able to get my hands on the other two books in the series at Barnes & Noble for less than cover price of one book! I’m really curious to see where this story goes and hope to read all three installments before the TV show premieres.

The Dead Boy Detectives by Ed Brubaker and Bryan Talbot. I read this Sandman spinoff series once before and am a big fan of Brubaker’s. While looking at my trade shelf, it seemed like a good fit for the theme.

Eerie Crime & Horror by Wally Wood. I fell in love with Wally Wood’s artwork after reading Weird Science Volume 2 and have been on the hunt for more of his work since then. I picked this book up earlier this year and figured now’s as good a time as any to finally read it (or possibly just scan it for the pretty pictures depending on how good the writing is).

Creepy Archives Volume 1. Featuring stories by some of the greatest artists in the comics business, I’ve been sitting on this book for years. It’s about darn time I finally sit down and have some fun with it.

Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History Of Friday The 13th by Peter M. Bracke. No kidding, I have a whole shelf filled with coffee table books I’ve never read. This oral history of one of the all-time greatest slasher franchises is one of them and seemed like a good non-fiction entry in the list.

Alright gang, so here goes. Hopefully this stack o’ books will get read more efficiently than the other. I’m already working on two of them right now, so I’m thinking it won’t be too long before the first review goes up.

ARL3: I, Robot The Illustrated Screenplay By Harlan Ellison & Mark Zug

i robot harlan ellison isaac asimov I can’t believe it’s been two and a half years since I read Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot for the first time. After finishing that book and doing some reading, I came to understand that renowned sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison wrote a screenplay that took the pieces of Asimov’s anthology and put them together with more of a through story, but it never got made. Reading a few more lines or paragraphs lead me to the realization that the script was made into a book with concept artwork by Mark Zug. After that I added I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay to my Amazon wish list and was lucky enough to get it for Christmas or my birthday, but it wound up taking quite a while for me to get around to it. I’m glad I added it to my third Ambitious Reading List because it got me to focus on this book that wound up being both a great story in and of itself, and a good introduction to Ellison (an author whose work I’m almost wholly unfamiliar with) and showed me how intricate and precise a screenplay can be.

Right away, I’ve got to say that this is not the easiest book to read. It’s in screenplay format which might be confusing if you’ve never read anything along those lines, but it’s also an incredibly dense screenplay packed with all kinds of jargon, some of which even I didn’t understand and I took a screenwriting class in college (though am in no way an expert). Also, since this is a futuristic story packed with all kinds of technology, you’re dealing with a lot of descriptions for ideas that might be hard to grasp at first. I found myself re-reading some  of the descriptions several times to get a good idea of what was going on. In those cases it helps to have Zug’s full color art in the center of the book and some of his sketches throughout the regular text.

Ellison’s tale revolves around Bratenahl, a reporter who finds himself driven by the idea of interviewing Dr. Susan Calvin, a robopsychologist whose work helped usher in the robot revolution that advanced humanity throughout the cosmos. At first he’s just covering a funeral and encounters the mysterious woman who most people would describe as cold and ultra-scientific, but he sees something else there. Encouraged by his editor to keep digging, Bratenahl winds up becoming obsessed with his quarry and her hidden story. That drive leads him to various locations all over the galaxy — teleportation is common place — which brings him in contact with people who tell him tales of Calvin, those stories are all found in Asimov’s book. The screenplay incorporates “Robbie,” “Runaround,” “Liar!” and “Evidence” as well as elements from the other tales.

I’m glad that I took a few years between reading the source material and digging into this adaptation because it was still able to surprise me. As I got into the first flashback sequence, some of the synapses in my memory started firing and I could remember little bits and pieces of what was possibly coming, but not everything altogether. I also kept remembering elements from the other stories and wondering if they would pop up, which added another layer of mystery and wonder to the proceedings.

arl3

Screenwriting is a form of writing that I’ve always been interested in and a format that I thought I knew pretty well before seeing how freaking amazing Ellison is at it. I’ve read things like Kevin Smith’s scripts as well as Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Christopher McQuarrie’s original The Usual Suspects screenplays and while those use the format to convey the story, the way that Ellison so completely understands the form and how to move the camera is just mind-blowing. So if you’re interested in seeing how well executed a screenplay can be while also getting in on a piece of sci-fi goodness that really needs to get made — I picture it as an animated movie, someone start a Kickstarter! — give I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay a look.

As far as the ARL3 goes, I’ve got to admit, I was struggling there for a while. Even with branching out to read Al Capp and The Totally Sweet 90s, it’s taken me a pathetic seven months to get through three books and realize that Elmore Leonard’s Riding The Rap just isn’t for me (at least right now). I’ve even started working on my next pile which has a few more books that I’m really interested in reading, but finishing the I, Robot screenplay has inspired me to stick with this one and see how things go. I’ve already moved on to Hunger Games which I’m about 60 pages deep into. It’s a pretty quick and easy read so hopefully I can keep that momentum going.